Easter! We can almost taste it. It's that close. It is time to put aside the garments of fasting and penance to rejoice with the Apostles that truly, He has risen as He said, "Resurrexit sicut dicit." But we must be careful not only what we put in our mouth, but what comes out, for Our Lord has clearly said that the latter is much, much more dangerous. Often times the slightest slip can cause great harm to others, making mountains out of molehills, creating great resentments and hurt feelings that might not heal. And it all started with, often times, a mere "opinion." That, too, will be something we will have to account for before our Creator at our Particular Judgment. Think about that as you read this essay today on Holy Saturday.
Before Christ rose from the dead, there were all kinds of rumors and opinions that the Apostles would steal His body and pretend He had risen to save face. That is why there were Roman soldiers stationed outside the tomb. As we know, that didn't help. But even after His resurrection, opinions were aplenty and have continued to this day as we have seen with the recent invectives against Mel Gibson and his masterpiece film 'The Passion of The Christ'. Though they are aimed at Mel, in truth, they are really against the Sacred Scriptures themselves.
"Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion", we always hear, and I guess that this is true. However, we must be very careful what we do with our opinions, for they can be weapons carelessly dropped causing much spiritual and emotional damage. All the good we might have accomplished during Lent can be offset by the dart of the tongue. As mentioned above, the recent circumstances and debates surrounding 'The Passion of The Christ' have given me a first rate review on the danger of unGodly opinions.
Definitions and Responsibility
Webster's Dictionary defines an opinion as a "view, judgment, or appraisal found in the mind about a particular matter." It further notes that opinions are "conclusions open to dispute." Perhaps most significant is the note that opinions are "formal expressions of judgment or advice by an expert."
Whatever definition one chooses, it is clear that opinions belong to the one holding the opinion. They are his or her possession just as any car, book, or computer would be. Just as we are legally responsible for how we use our possessions, we must be morally and ethically responsible for how we use our opinions.
I cannot say that my car belongs to me and therefore I can drive it anywhere and any way that I want to. Despite the fact that my car belongs to me, I am still subject to the laws and regulations of the road. These laws and regulations have been designed not to limit my driving per se, but to protect the safety and integrity of others. While these rules may limit my free expression, their purpose helps to promote a safer and more civilized society. Also, my freedom to use my car will be dictated by the circumstances in question. While I may drive 60 miles per hour without the headlights on a clear day on the freeway, such conduct is unacceptable and dangerous on a foggy night in the streets. Thus we see that our possessions, even though they belong to us, are subject to varying types and degrees of limits set out to promote safety, civility, and consideration of others.
As human beings we have the right to our opinions, but with that right come corresponding duties. The most basic of these duties is the duty to use discretion and care in expressing our opinions. We all know that there are times when honestly expressing our opinions may cause arguments, discord, fights, humiliations, etc.
We would be as children if we insisted on our right to express our opinions regardless of the situation, the persons affected, the possible harms, and our qualification and right to express that particular opinion. Being a mature adult means that sometimes we will withhold our opinion where it could cause harm, discord, or interfere with a greater right or good.
UnGodly Opinions as Satanic in Character
When people hear the word satanic they immediately think of devil worship or directly promoting the devil, which is obviously a horrible and unspeakable image for anyone. The word "satanic", however, can also mean tending to promote that which Satan would favor. In a sense, anything, which brings about evil or results destructive to good is satanic and should be avoided.
In 2 Peter 2:1-3, St. Peter warns us that Satan is very crafty and can creep in through twists and turns and sweet sounding claims and words. He warned those seeking to follow God to be vigilant so as not to let the devil insinuate himself through these sweet sounding twists and turns. Peter referred to these insinuations as "opinions of perdition" which are destructive and like "noxious pests."
Given the above warnings it becomes clear that any opinion which brings about discord and conflict and which harms a greater good than the good of free opinion is a satanic opinion of perdition and should be ignored or avoided. Furthermore, anyone insisting on that opinion is either blindly selfish or arrogant in pushing his or her views regardless of their effect or worse tainted with the stain of the devil's handiwork.
This is not to say that such people holding and insisting on their opinions are inherently evil, only that they are being used as carriers of evil by the devil. The people holding these opinions may even have very noble and caring reasons for their expression of opinion, but they are nevertheless being used by the devil through sweet sounding words.
Before one speaks, therefore, one has a duty to consider the possible effect of one's words. One must consider if expressing one's opinion is worth the possible harm, which may result. Where one becomes aware of possible harm, one has a duty to back off and remain silent. Just as I am responsible for the harm caused by a rock I throw without intent to harm, so too I will be responsible for any harm resulting from an indiscriminately thrown opinion.
Expertise, Discretion and The Greater Good
Christ tells us that no man may break or interfere with the marriage bond. This likewise implies respect for the parental role. There is no justification for causing discord in a family or marriage just because one wants to express one's opinion. There are those who will argue that a relative may have a moral duty to speak in some cases. I believe that in such cases the relative should first investigate the situation to see who believes what and to judge the impact of that opinion on the situation. One cannot just claim moral duty and run in shooting opinions; one must first discern if such opinions will cause more harm than good. Suppose I am of the opinion that my sister-in-law is being unfaithful to my brother. Should I just express that opinion to my brother or first try to figure out if my opinion has any basis and if there are any other options?
Expertise in this context means my qualification for expressing an opinion. In law, an expert's opinion carries more weight than that of a non-expert. If I am experienced in a given area, I am more qualified to express my opinion than if I have no knowledge or experience in that area. Expertise also means that I have information and knowledge about the people and circumstances involved in my opinion. If I am less familiar with a child than the parent, as is usually the case, I am less qualified to opine regarding that child given my lack of knowledge of the child. Finally, expertise also implies that I have been accurate regarding my appraisal of a given situation or person in the past. If I have been wrong about a person in the past, I am less qualified to opine regarding that person now.
Discretion means knowing when to stay silent. However, it can also mean waiting to be asked and limiting one's opinion from becoming an assertion. One should wait to be asked and even then limit one's opinion so as not to turn that opinion into a persuasive argument unless you know that your 'opinion' is not an opinion but a fact in complete harmony with Divine Revelation and what Holy Mother Church has always taught. If the person is in sin, than, yes, one has a moral duty, nay, a mandate to correct the wrong in the same manner Christ did with the wayward woman of the Gospel. Yes, He forgave, but with the inescapable provision - "sin no more."
If UnGodly opinions are those expressed without expertise, discretion, or consideration of their harmful impact, then what are Godly opinions? Although St. Peter warned that opinions have no place in the truth of Christ, we can deduce that, if we are going to express an opinion, a number of conditions should be met. First, we must be qualified to express that opinion through experience, previous accuracy regarding the issue, and knowledge of the people or situations involved.
Second, we must use care in determining the effect of an opinion and limiting its scope so as to avoid interference.
Third, we must determine if our right to give our opinion is greater than the good, which may be affected by our opinion. Lastly, we should wait until asked and then limit our opinion as best we can to allow room for debate. If we follow these guidelines, our opinions will more likely be Godly. If we ignore these suggestions, however, our opinion will likely lead to destruction, harm, or conflict and thus be satanic.
In other words, an ounce of caution is worth a pound of cure. Again, that does not mean to be silent always, to look the other way when wrongs are being done. That would be akin to those of the Church of Laodicia, "But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor not, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth."
UnGodly Opinions Lead To Disrespect
Marriage is a holy Sacrament, which Jesus firmly said, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mt 19: 6). Therefore, as followers of Christ, we must respect the marital, parental, career, social, and other roles of others. Although we may have a moral or noble reason for expressing our opinion, we must carefully balance that reason with respect for those who will be impacted by that opinion. We also have an even greater moral duty to avoid giving opinions in areas we are not qualified to give opinions, such as relating to marriage when we are single, child-rearing when we have no children, and morality/spiritual/religious areas when we are not fervent in those areas.
When we give an unqualified opinion, we disrespect those we give our opinion to, those affected by our opinion, the topic of the opinion, and even ourselves. First, we disrespect those we give our opinion to because our opinion implies that they cannot handle the situation at hand. The hypocrisy and foolishness of this implication should be obvious given our own lack of qualification in the area. A plumber, no matter how caring and noble, looks foolish advising an accountant on accounting! Second, we disrespect those affected by our opinion. Clearly, an opinion can be like a missile shot out into the night, likely hitting many people. Unless we are qualified to speak and speak to any and all people involved and affected by our words, we are not speaking with God. The neighbor who comments to a husband about how the husband and wife should raise their child is disrespecting the husband, the wife affected behind her back, and even the child!
Third, an unGodly, unqualified opinion disrespects the topic spoken about because it stains that topic and lowers its value. If I were to give opinions about surgical procedures, for example, I would be lowering the respect due such procedures given that I have no clue about such things and should stay out of the topic unless asked by a surgeon ( unlikely) or other person ( unwise). Lastly, an unGodly opinion disrespects the one giving the opinion because it leads people to both ignore the areas in which that person is qualified to speak and to focus on just what areas the person is not qualified to opine about. If I give rampant opinions about engineering, for example, I will only lead people to ignore on things I might know about and focus on the millions of things I have no clue about, such as engineering.
As an aside, is this not the very thing that has evolved from Vatican II. Everyone had an "opinion" since nothing concrete came out of that pastoral four-year Council and we can see the damage that has been done by employing all the opinions. Oh, yes, that devil is a crafty creature. So insidious, so thorough.
In a society where "freedom of speech" is often used to justify just about anything, we must follow a different code. In a society where "moral duty" is often claimed to override others' moral rights, we must balance our sense of moral right. In a society where discretion and waiting to be asked has lost its value, we must learn to respect others and wait for them to ask us for our opinions. In a society where qualification has been diluted, we must recognize that there is more qualification required to give an opinion than merely being human, breathing, and thinking that one's opinion must be heard. St. Peter warns us that our opinions may be channels by which the devil harms human relationships. We must therefore only opine when we are qualified, respectful, careful, and asked.
Our opinions are more powerful than we give them credit for, and their value for good and bad is likewise much more extensive than we think. Like everyone, I have often spoken when I should have remained quiet, and I have hurt others with my opinions and words, for which I am truly now sorry. I am always trying to do my best to abolish this fault from my life.
As we enter the Season of Paschaltide and as
one who has thus sinned, I am qualified to give the opinion that such talk is truly of the devil and must be avoided. Might I suggest to all to avail themselves of the most healing Sacrament of Penance during this Easter Season. That is not an opinion; rather it is your "Easter Duty" mandated by the Church. Only through Confession and frequent reception of the Holy Communion - truly confected in the True Mass - can we better gird ourselves in grace to offset the deceits of the devil. We must remember that the devil slithers into our lives with seemingly noble intentions. While it is certainly true that "we are all entitled to our opinions", we must make sure that we are not helping the devil to express his!